A new season is getting underway in the NFL and the Atlanta Falcons are trying to make their return to being contenders in the NFC once again. The 2018 season was an abysmal one for Atlanta but luckily for them, every team starts with an 0-0 record to begin 2019.

Just three years ago, Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense were soaring through the NFL and winning games with ease. Atlanta finished with an 11-5 record in 2016 and found themselves playing in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.

After beginning the game with a 28-3 lead, the Falcons went from being historically great to becoming an infamous meme on social media. The Falcons lost in overtime by the score of 34-28 and they haven’t been able to shake off that game since.

Last season, Atlanta struggled with injuries and their defense was unable to do much to help their offense out. As a result, they finished with a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in the last six years.

Nonetheless, the majority of the offense is returning; with the exception of the offensive line. Matt Ryan is still under center chucking passes downfield to Julio Jones.

To begin the 2019 season, Atlanta will face another team who underwhelmed in 2018, the Minnesota Vikings.

Here are three keys for the Falcons to defeat the Vikings in Week 1.

3. Apply Pressure on Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins, Vikings, 49ers

One area of the Falcons’ game that needs to improve in 2019 is their pass rush. Atlanta’s pass rush was nonexistent in 2018 and they paid the price for it by having the sixth-worst ranked pass defense in the NFL.

As a team, the Falcons only managed to bring down the quarterback 37 times last season (22nd in the NFL). With that being said, Vic Beasley and company are going to need to apply some pressure on Kirk Cousins in this game.

Cousins has a multitude of weapons to target in Minnesota and allowing him time to throw to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen is a bold strategy. By forcing pressure on Cousins, the Falcons could force unwarranted throws that can turn into turnovers.

Getting the ball in Ryan’s hands as much as possible in this game is the move.

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2. Protect Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan, Falcons

During the offseason, Atlanta prioritized bolstering their offensive line to protect their franchise quarterback this season. The team signed James Carpenter in free agency and also used their first two draft picks to select Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary.

With all of the time they put and money they put into the offensive line, Dan Quinn wants to see results. All of the money and draft picks they used could come into play against the Vikings on Sunday.

The Vikings have a formidable pass-rushing unit led by Danielle Hunter that had 50 sacks in 2018 (fourth-most in NFL).

If Ryan is unable to have time in the pocket, Atlanta is going to be in for a long day—and season—beginning on Sunday.

1. Get the Running Game Going

Devonta Freeman, Falcons

This offseason, the Falcons lost Tevin Coleman to the San Francisco 49ers to reunite with Kyle Shanahan. The good news is, with his departure, the offense will be getting Devonta Freeman back in their backfield.

Last season, Freeman played in just two games before he was placed on injured reserve with a groin injury. As a result of his absence, the Falcons offense struggled to get anything going on the ground and ended with the sixth-worst rushing offense in 2018.

With the return of Freeman and second-year running back Ito Smith, Atlanta will need to establish their running game early and often. The last thing you want to do against a stifling defense like the Vikings is to become one-dimensional.

If the Falcons don’t attempt to run the ball, they won’t fare well against Minnesota in Week 1.